Butler Goes For Four Straight Over Villanova, Plus Three Other Betting Previews

Butler Goes For Four Straight Over Villanova, Plus Three Other Betting Previews article feature image

© Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For your reading pleasure as you look over the card with your Saturday morning coffee, I took an in-depth look at whether or not Butler (+10) can make it four straight against Villanova. I also analyzed the following three matchups:

  • Xavier at Creighton (-2)
  • Tennessee at Alabama (+2)
  • Texas Tech at Kansas State (+1)

Make sure to check out our staff-wide betting guide for in-depth previews of Purdue-Michigan State and Gonzaga-St. Mary’s. Also, you can follow me on Twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game notes, injury updates, and second-half predictions. I pull all lines from 5Dimes at the time of writing.

Butler at Villanova (-10)

12:00 pm ET

Butler has defeated the current No. 1 team in the nation three consecutive times. There are actually several valid reasons why. Let’s take a look at a few to determine if the Bulldogs can make it four in a row against Villanova.

Jalen Brunson

Villanova’s outstanding point guard has averaged nearly 31 ppg, while shooting a ridiculous 30-50 in the past three meetings with Butler (all losses). The general philosophy of Butler when defending Villanova has been to turn Brunson into a scorer. By doing so, it takes away Villanova’s outstanding ball movement and contains the rest of their lethal shooters. In those three games, Brunson has just nine total assists.

Kamar Baldwin

Brunson’s counterpart on the Butler side has been unstoppable in terms of getting into the paint. As a result, Baldwin forces Villanova’s constantly switching defense out of its element. Brunson’s lack of lateral quickness defensively was exposed by Baldwin, who has morphed into an attacking point guard in his first full season on the ball.

Kelan Martin

Martin has been the other big factor offensively for the Bulldogs. He’s a matchup nightmare for Villanova’s defense, especially this year. LaVall Jordan did a phenomenal job of getting Martin in spot up situations as a shooter (usually when uber defender Mikal Bridges was orced to help on Baldwin’s penetration). Jordan also recognized that Martin could win the matchup every time Eric Paschall switched on to him.

Butler’s Pick and Roll Offense

Butler’s offense relies heavily on the pick and roll, as it uses PnR at the 24th highest rate in the country, per Synergy. Villanova is typically an outstanding pick and roll defense thanks to the versatility of players like Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo. However, this year’s team hasn’t been as effective, as freshman center Omari Spellman really struggles with his role in the defense. He gets lost on assignments in ball screen situations and doesn’t know when he should hard hedge or stay home. As a result, he’s often out of position when the ball enters the restricted area. Spellman isn’t a poor defender, but he clearly has a hard time grasping his role in Wright’s constantly switching defense.

Butler’s ubiquitous pick and roll offense also gives Nova trouble when Martin takes the initial ball screen. He invariably gets an undersized guard switched onto him, which he exploits every time. Martin scores in the 92nd percentile on ball screens, which is quite a luxury to have at the 4 spot.

Butler’s Press Offense

Nova’s 3/4 court 1-2-2 zone press has effectively limited opponents to .95 points per possession, per Synergy. While it generated late turnovers to get Villanova within “respectability” range in their most recent loss to Butler, it was generally shredded throughout. Butler scores in the 95th percentile nationally out of their press offense.

The Conclusion

So can Butler make it four in a row over Nova with a win in Philly? The Bulldogs certainly won’t hit at an absurd 15-22 from 3 with Tyler Jorgensen pulling up from 27 feet again, but their unique ability to exploit several of the holes in Villanova’s defense will give them a shot. Additionally, the likely unavailability of Booth and Paschall leaves Jay Wright with 4 freshmen trying to pick up his ball screen continuity offense and constantly switching man to man defense.

The PICK: Butler +10

Other Notes:

Xavier at Creighton -2 (2:30 pm ET) The Bluejays have a major issue looming with post defense today. Since Martin Krampelj went down with a season ending injury, Creighton has been porous defensively at the rim. Toby Hegner simply doesn’t have the same athleticism and skill level as Krampelj at the 5. Ronnie Harrell is also out of position at the 4 and their only bench help is foul machine Manny Suarez.

Per hooplens, Creighton’s defense with Hegner at the 5 and Harrell at the 4 since Krampelj’s season ending knee injury hasn’t been pretty. They allow a horrifying 1.20 points per possession and 60% shooting on 2PT field goals. Creighton’s opponents are also attempting more threes, despite the weaker interior defense. That’s because Greg McDermott has had to double the post, leaving shooters open on the perimeter.

Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well against a Xavier offense that ranks 14th nationally in percentage of shots taken at the rim. It also destroyed a healthy Creighton team at the rim in the first meeting. Chris Mack essentially just cycled between Sean O’Mara and Kerem Kanter in the post. Those two combined to go 11-17, forcing McDermott to send help, which left stretch 4 Xavier Gates wide open all day.

So what can McDermott do differently this time around? Honestly, probably nothing. The Bluejays will simply have to outscore the Muskies. With McDermott’s outstanding early ball screen, “pace and space” offense, that’s possible, especially in front of a home crowd that sold out CenturyLink Arena weeks ago. The Bluejays haven’t lost at home all year to boot.

Look for McDermott to push the tempo as much as possible. The Bluejays have one of the best transition offenses in the country, while Xavier grades out in just the 10th percent nationally in transition defense, per Synergy. To achieve this, Creighton will need to rebound defensively, something it actually has not seen a drop-off in post-Krampelj. In fact, they Blue Jays have rebounded at a slightly higher rate. The PICK: Over 163.5

Tennessee @ Alabama +2 (6:00 pm ET) Alabama is 4-1 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, with the one loss coming against Minnesota in the infamous “3 on 5” game. That has ironically turned into their worst loss of the season. Now you’re probably thinking, “But Jordan, who cares about the fraudulent AP Top 25?”. Fair thought. The AP Top 25 is utterly useless and should be abolished immediately. That said, it’s clear Avery Johnson uses this meaningless ranking system to motivate his team. It is probably particularly effective with hyper-competitive Collin Sexton.

The Tide could potentially run into a few distinct matchup problems with the Vols, however. First and foremost, Tennessee plays outstanding ball screen defense. Per Synergy, the Vols allow just .631 ppp to pick and roll ball handlers, as Rick Barnes can throw multiple savvy defenders with length at guards in PnR situations. The position-less nature of his roster allows him to switch on every screen seamlessly, a tremendous asset to have against Sexton.

However, several pick and roll heavy SEC offenses with elite guards have torched the Vols. Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford combined for 61 points in an OT loss at Arkansas. They followed that up with a home loss to Auburn, after Auburn PG Jared Harper flattened them in a similar fashion. Even Vandy freshman PG Saben Lee had success off ball screens against the Vols.

While Sexton might get his, the Tide really need freshman wing John Petty to return to form. Petty has seemingly hit the freshman wall, as he has struggled mightily since his breakout game vs Auburn. He has shot just 7-30 from 3 in his last six games, failing to score in double figures in any. Petty is Sexton’s most natural outlet when defenses swarm him on ball screens. He HAS to have a decent game to keep the Vols’ PnR defense honest. The Tide shot just 3-22 from 3 last time out against Mississippi State, which structures its PnR defense incredibly similar to Tennessee. The 3 will be there. If Bama can knock down a few early, the court will open up for Sexton, as Barnes will have to stop swarming him on ball screens.

The Vols have one of the most post heavy offenses in the country, despite lacking overall team height. Grant Williams at the 4 is perhaps the most underrated player in the entire country. His shiftiness in the post within Rick Barnes’ flex motion sets has been highly effective. However, despite an ailing wrist, Tide big man Donta Hall has excelled as a post defender. He can effectively limit Williams with his length and extreme athleticism.

With Alabama’s ability to limit Tennessee in the post and the Vols forcing a suspect Tide shooting team into jumpers (Alabama shoots just 28.9% from 3 in SEC play), points will be at a premium in Tuscaloosa. The PICK: Under 139

Texas Tech at Kansas State +1 (8:00 pm ET) In mid-January, Texas Tech was thrown for a loop with the loss of senior “glue guy” Zach Smith. The Red Raiders then lost three of their next four games. But they’ve since recovered with five straight wins, thanks to elite defense.

Bruce Weber has a strange KSU team. This year’s Wildcats have the best offense he’s had in Manhattan, but they’re also, by far, the worst defensive team he’s ever had. And I mean ever. All of his teams at Illinois and Southern Illinois had better defensive efficiency ratings.

Offensively, the Wildcats run Weber’s ball screen motion offense beautifully. Both Barry Brown and Cartier Diarra are extremely efficient as pick and roll ball handlers, and Dean Wade is an absolutely lethal stretch big in pick and pops on flare screens into slips. Wade has also improved his efficiency in the post.

Texas Tech ranks third nationally in defensive efficiency, but have shown signs of weakness against ball screens and in the post (see Iowa State in Ames and Texas in Austin). In the first meeting in Lubbock, Chris Beard chose to eliminate Wade in space by “downing” on ball screens. That means he didn’t rotate a third defender over to help on the screen, which effectively let Wade’s defender stay at home on him. As a result, Brown was left to his own devices and he scored 24 points with 13 trips to the charity stripe, taking advantage of Keenan Evans’ suspect defense. That said, I think Beard will make that gamble again.

Offensively, the Red Raiders struggle at times. They are stacked with athleticism, but too dependent on Evans to create everything. They rank last in the league in three point shooting, but make up for it by leading the Big 12 in free throw rate. And KSU’s aggressive defense will foul. TTU, while not great on the offensive glass (Beard focuses more on transition defense), can still exploit one of the nation’s worst defensive rebounding teams.

With Beard likely containing Wade, KSU has two outstanding pick and roll ball handlers that should find offense in the halfcourt at the Octagon. TTU’s sometimes anemic offense also shouldn’t have much trouble exploiting the many holes of KSU’s foul-happy defense. The PICK: Over 136.5